Start location: Spittal of Glenmuick (NO 308 850)
End location: Glen Clova (NO 285 760)
Geographical area: Cairngorms National Park
Path Type: Medieval Road
Path distance: 9km
Accessibility info: Suitable for pedestrians, Suitable for Bikes
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Starting from the Spittal of Glenmuick, go southwest along the track for 400m and take the left-hand track diagonally uphill across the west side of Black Hill and continue SSW over undulating moorland west of Watery Hill to Gallow Hillock. From there the path climbs slightly over the shoulder of Capel Mounth and then descends steeply in zigzags down the ridge between Moulzie Burn and Capel Burn and through a plantation to reach Glen Clova. The carpark at the end of the public road is 1km down the glen, and from there the Glen Clova Hotel's bunkhouse is a further 5km.
For those thinking of cycling the Capel Mounth, check out Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland's e-guide to the Highlands which describes a circuit using this historic route. However, please note that the e-guide mentioned footbridge across the River South Esk just above Moulzie was washed away by Storm Frank, so as of January 2016 a diversion is in place.
OS Landranger 44 (Ballater & Glen Clova)
This old route is marked as Mounth Capell on the Gough Map, which has been dated to between 1355 and 1366. Ainslie's Map of the County of Forfar and Shire of Angus (1794) shows the route from Braedownie as far as the Aberdeenshire border. John Thomson's map of Angusshire (1825) provides detail beyond the border and the route continues past the Spital of Glenmuick and all the way to Ballater. That being said, all the routes shown on Thomson's map look much the same - there is no differentiation in marking to indicate the various types of routes which will have existed at this time.
The Capel Mounth would have been a very convenient pass between Glen Muick and the Braes of Angus and may have been a good deal used in the days when the district was more populated. The New Statistical Account (1842) states that a survey had been made "some years ago of a line of road to extend over the Cappel Mount" - it is clear this proposal was considered of value by the writer, but the scheme was never carried out. It is possible that the marked route shown on Thomson's map is this surveyed line, rather than the pre-existing rough track.
The Capel Mounth road lies above 2000ft for much of its way. In winter, like a lot of other Mounth passes, it was extremely dangerous; the OS 6" map (second edition) shows frequent snow posts and cairns marking the route. Many of the cairns are thought to have been erected as memorials to persons who lost their lives in the pass.
The Spittal of Glenmuick is the site of an old hospice or hospital established by the Bishop of Aberdeen for travellers. This would have had a chapel (cappella) - hence probably the name of the Capel Mounth and also of the Capel Burn in Glen Clova at the southern end of the pass.
It is said that local Jacobites used the Capel Mounth on their way to fight at Culloden in 1746, although use of Jock's Road is also reported. In the aftermath of the battle, refugees fled in particular to the glens of Clova and Esk.
The recreational use of the route can be stretched back over 120 years. The Mountaineering Club Journal for 1892 reports that on 1st May, a party of sixteen bicyclists crossed by the Capel Mounth from Glen Muick to Glen Clova. They pushed their bicycles all the way over the mountain path and reached Milton of Clova with only one machine broken. They were the first cyclists to cross the Capel Mounth - it was said to be an arduous but exhilarating excursion.
The Heritage Paths project is pleased to announce that Neil Ramsay (our former Project Officer) and Nate Pedersen (one of our earliest volunteers) have teamed up to write an ebook - The Mounth Passes - with photography by long-standing ScotWays member Graham Marr. If you too are interested in the heritage of these old ways through the Grampian Mountains, we highly recommend it.